February 21st, 2017
Note: AJC Berlin Director Deidre Berger and Public Affairs Officer Fabian Weissbarth are accompanying a delegation of German Politicians and Journalists in Israel.
As we stepped out of the airplane there was a glowing red setting sun that set the tone that something extraordinary would happen this week. We were fortunate to begin the study tour with one of Israel’s most famous public intellectuals, Prof. Shlomo Avineri.
Avineri reported about the great disillusionment in Israel with the peace process, which he explained can only be settled ultimately between the Israelis and the Palestinians. However, he outlined a path forward of smaller steps that can maintain a relatively peaceful and sustainable situation. He pointed to another example of disputed territories, such as Cyprus and Kosovo, which are politically manageable despite unsolved issues. However, he expressed skepticism that any of the four major areas of dispute - borders and settlements - Jerusalem - refugees - security issues - can be solved in the foreseeable future.
AJC Jerusalem director Avital Leibovich explained Israel’s security challenges on its borders and within the country due to hostile neighbors and terror groups. She outlined the significant growth in military capacity of Hezbollah, which is worrisome for Israel. Hezbollah quintupled their rocket arsenal over the last 10 years while gaining extensive on the ground military experience in Syria. Avital helped create understanding about the difficulties Israelis face living under constant threat of terror.
We further learned the difficulties of preventing terror attacks from police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld, who explained the considerable resources necessary, while taking us through the Old City of Jerusalem. He also elaborated on the challenge to maintain a balance between public security and unhindered access to the famous tourist sites in the Old City. Given the increasing numbers of terror attacks in Europe and Germany, this was particularly interesting for the group - many working in the field of security.
It was fascinating for the group to see the lively group of men and women of all ages praying at the Western Wall. It was also interesting to see large numbers of young soldiers, reflecting the diversity of Israel’s many ethnicities, who were assembled in the Old City to learn more about the country’s ancient history.
The group also learned more about Israel’s religious communities doing a tour through Jerusalem’s neighborhoods led by the highly informed Miri Eisin. Next, came overview of Israel’s political system, where participants discovered many common points of intersection between the German and Israeli parliamentary democracies. Reuven Hazan’s extremely interesting lecture on this topic also showed the singularities of the Israeli political system, helping the group to better understand the election process and political camps in Israel.
We ended the day with a lively discussion with Canadian journalist and author Matti Friedman, who has written extensively about the singular focus of the international press on Israel; more specifically to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The discussion elicited numerous observations and reflections on media coverage of Israel, helping illuminate the ways in which reporting shapes our understanding.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.